When Liz Wilkes ’13 first began pitching her wellness startup, Exubrancy, to companies in 2013, she was sometimes met with laughter. Many scoffed at the idea of employees needing or wanting meditation services. But Wilkes saw what a powerful impact wellness services could make, not only for employees but also for employers to create a more motivated, dedicated workforce. Fast-forward to present-day: meditation is not only widely accepted, but it’s in-demand, particularly now with pandemic-induced stress levels. In addition to meditation, Exubrancy offers fitness classes, massages, and health education to companies that want to expand resources and benefits for their employees. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, these services look different, and Wilkes has had to pivot her offerings to be completely virtual. Here, she describes how Exubrancy made the switch, how companies can boost employee productivity, and how to be more productive and happy working from home.

How does Exubrancy work, and what services does it offer?

Our whole model is based on scouting incredible talent in the wellness space that typically is made up of fitness instructors, meditation teachers, and massage therapists. We also work with wellness experts to lead health education seminars and consultations. We work with large and small companies and tailor programming to fit where they are in their company lifecycle, growth, budget, etc. When we started in 2013, it was definitely tech companies that were the early adopters in the space. Now, wellness and self-care are such an important part of the zeitgeist and it’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t like that. The Googles of the world pioneered wellness programs for employees and opened a lot of doors for Exubrancy because they set the standard so high.

The benefits of Exubrancy for employees are clear – but how do employers benefit from offering your services?

It’s challenging to quantify just how important it is for companies to offer programs to support their employees’ well-being. A lot of our programs address mental health. Meditation is such an important foundation for so many people to help with anxiety and stress. People who are mentally and physically fit are healthier, more productive, and miss less work. These programs also help a company to recruit amazing talent. If someone is applying to a company and it doesn’t offer these sorts of programs that show it cares about employees, then that’s often a red flag to the applicant. The impact of having a best-in-class wellness program can be massive.

How did you pivot your programming?

We have more than 1,000 wellness professionals around the country who are part of our wellness pro network, so we reached out to everyone and asked who would be interested in teaching virtually. We created a new layer of our vetting process to identify team members who would lead great virtual experiences. We now have to consider things like home setup, WiFi, and technology to make sure instructors can offer a premium experience to people virtually. We quickly curated a team of top virtual fitness instructors, meditation teachers, and workshop facilitators. We’ve built an incredible set of talented people that can serve the needs of our clients, and we’ve found that a huge percentage of our clients didn’t want to skip a beat. Companies wanted to continue the same types of programs virtually that they were already offering in the office to support their employees. We’ve also seen many of our clients taking things to the next level and going from maybe two yoga or meditation classes a week to 20 now that everything is remote. Many companies are getting more bang for their buck because they can have an experience with Exubrancy and offer it to their global workforce. For example, we have been running classes for Spotify that air live in Japan and Australia – companies are able to offer shared experiences that weren’t possible before.

How can employees stay healthy and motivated while working remotely?

My top tip is to be kind to yourself and to realize there is no normal right now. Things are hard and we are all going through this together. If that means doing things you wouldn’t normally do during your workday – like go for a walk or call your mom – we all need to let ourselves figure out what feels good and commit to letting ourselves do those things. Also, figure out how to set up your workspace at home to be productive. For me, the simplest things have a big impact. For example, making coffee in the mornings helps me signal to myself that the workday has begun.

It’s also a great time to show your plants some love. Starting a garden – whether you have a yard or a windowsill garden – can be great. Caring for a plant has psychological benefits. I’m extremely excited about my little rosemary and basil plants. Find things that bring you joy and work them into your daily routine. There is so much creativity coming out of this moment, and I think we are just seeing the beginning of it.

I’ve been loving doing crazy, virtual, donation-based dance fitness classes (with my husband and five-month-old) through choreographer Ryan Heffington’s Instagram. There are also amazing DJs, like DJ D-Nice, who are doing sets through Instagram live. There are these weird moments and experiences emerging that are bringing together a community of people who are looking for something positive and who are looking to give and receive love. There’s a lot out there, so try some stuff, and if you find something that is working for you, make the effort to incorporate it into your routine.

How can employers support their workers in being mentally and physically healthy?

One thing that’s super important is to curate and spotlight the wellness resources available for your employees – ideally a blend of company-sponsored offerings and additional suggestions. Your content could live on a Slack channel, on your intranet, or in an internal document. Also, offering resources and instructions for setting up a comfortable, ergonomic workspace can be helpful.

Using platforms like Zoom to create shared experiences is also helpful. Yes, we can have productive meetings over video, but we can also have happy hours and game nights. You can sit across from someone and have lunch and casual conversation – employers can have a hand in making these things happen. On the flip side, “Zoom fatigue” is real. I’ve started coaching my team to choose which meetings benefit most from video, and which might be just as effective as a call (or, ideally, a walking meeting!).

Will this shift to virtual programming permanently change the way wellness services are offered?

Definitely. I think we are going to see a real shift in the way that the workplace expresses itself in the next months and years, and maybe indefinitely. At Exubrancy, we are definitely preparing for long-term changes. More offices will be remote-first or office-optional, more offices will stagger who’s in the office when, and that will reinforce the need to have more virtual experiences available. I also think the way we socialize in real life will change, and that will change the way that group experiences are offered for employees. We are now working with companies on plans for when their offices will reopen, and many are planning to continue virtual programming indefinitely in addition to reintroducing in-office programs.